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Designer Diary: 2
Idea → Prototype

At what point does an idea about a game become a game about an idea? 


The inspiration for Grimwald came from reading the original pitch document for the PC game Diablo:

Excerpt from the description of the game play in Diablo Pitch document

Diagram of the town and dungeon in Diablo Pitch document

To make this game my own, my goal was to distill out the things I love about Diablo (character progression and loot!) and capture those feelings in a board game form.

Putting it on Paper

Unlike many other designers, I don’t actually write down many notes when I have new ideas. My philosophy is that if it’s a good idea, then I wouldn’t possibly be able to forget it. I’m constantly thinking about game design problems and the first test of an idea is whether it survives bouncing around in my head.

I like to mock up new ideas in Excel and this is how the first prototype of Grimwald started. I created a new workbook, saved it with the working title “RPG Worker Placement” and got started!

Building Blocks

A game needs a system and a system needs building blocks. That’s where I started. Characters in my game needed attributes to make each player’s character feel unique. This was the very first system I created.

First version of the character Attribute Map

Current version of the character Attribute Map

I wanted something simple and visual, similar to a personality chart. The basic attributes in blue (Brawn, Guile and Wisdom) combine to give heroic attributes in orange (Prestige, Genius and Virtue).

I’m not a fan of adding unnecessary complexity to the lexicon of a game. Wherever possible I try to take advantage of familiarity and scaffolding (i.e. if possible, call a Victory Point a Victory Point not an Illustriousness Quantum).

So why didn’t I go with the usual Strength, Intelligence and Dexterity? I wanted opposite attributes to feel like opposite personality traits and I wanted the heroic attributes feel like a combination of the basic attributes. I felt this justified bringing out the thesaurus. 

What was the next building block my game would need?

Resources! I decided on three resources (Skill Points, Experience Points and Gold Coins) and on how they would be spent (unlocking skills, leveling up and buying items respectively). I wanted to associate each resource type with one of the three basic attributes: 

First version of attributes-resources-actions interaction

Game Flow

Once I had these basic building blocks in place, I moved on to the game flow. Players would earn resources by selecting actions from a game board consisting of quests of increasing difficulty:

First version of the quest board

Players would then spend their resources in town to prepare for the next questing phase:

First version of the town board

Current version of the quest and town board (combined)

Mechanics vs Theme

I often see the debate between mechanics vs theme as a driver for game design. I think of myself as very mechanics oriented, but when I reflect back it is clear that I started with a theme and used this to develop the basic building blocks of my game. Even before the theme, I had a clear vision for the player experience I wanted to achieve (see designer diary 1).

Once I had the building blocks for a game, I aimed to make the game playable as soon as possible. It didn’t have to be good, it just needed to be playable. Within the first week I had fleshed out the mechanics to the point that I could print off my first prototype and play the full game. 

The important point is not where to start, but how to start. As with any project, how best to start will come down to the individual. My only advice is to jump in and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Creating a terrible game that is actually possible to play is immensely more valuable and a much greater achievement than coming up with an amazing game idea that can never be played. 

First Prototype

Below are a selection of the pages in my initial prototype print out.

Character board 
Quest board 

Town board 


Over to you

At what point did your idea about a game become a game about an idea?

What was the very first system you created for your game?


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Avatar Leigh Perrott

Author: Leigh Perrott

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